Tempra Tantrum 2008 Tempranillo/Cabernet

Price: $9
Maker: Osborne Seleccion SA, Toledo, Spain
Varietal: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, screw cap
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

In an age when wine names are often cute or funny, Tempra Tantrum 2008 Tempranillo/Cabernet scores big on the cuteness scale. The wine itself isn’t bad either. This blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon is very juicy, with spicy blackberry and raspberry notes on the front end. There’s a hint of chocolate in there, too, followed by a long-lasting tannic finish. This isn’t a complex wine, but it’s highly drinkable and fine for party or picnic fare.

According to the Tempra Tantrum website, this Cab mashup is one of four Tempranillo blends offered by 6th-generation winemaker Rocio Osborne. The website describes the aging process, or lack thereof:

Once fermentation is complete the wine is aged for a short time using a cutting edge technique called micro-oxygenation, which softens the wine and brightens the fruit flavors. Because the wines are made in such a novel soft/gentle style, they require minimum bottle-aging.

They describe the wine as stylish and modern, which I interpret as “not too challenging for the casual wine-drinker.”

Not everyone likes this wine. The Wine Cask Blog thought that, “overwhelming bitter acids and unbalanced blanching tannins make this actually unpleasant.” Ugh, bad bottle, I guess. The Kitchn had better luck, reporting the whole Tempra Tantrum line to be tasty and well balanced. In the Cab blend, they found “Classic cassis and blackberry aromas, with earthy, peppery notes. Vibrant flavors, ripe but slightly firmer tannins.”

For $8-$10 bucks, you shouldn’t go too far wrong with Tempra Tantrum 2008 Tempranillo/Cabernet. It’s a crowd pleaser with a terminally cute (but clever) name.

Palo Alto Reserve 2008

Price: $10
Maker: Vina Palo Alto Ltda., Santiago, Chile
Varietal: Red Blend – Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.8 out of 10

Palo Alto Reserve 2008 is a Chilean red blend. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah grapes are all grown in the Maule River valley region. The flavor of this wine featured unusually intense berry flavors, along with oak and black pepper. The finish was long and peppery. The rather strong tannins gave the wine a sharp edge at the outset, but letting it breathe for a while rounded things out. Surpisingly, a small quantity improperly stored in the original bottle for a couple of days didn’t suffer the expected deterioration, and if anything was slightly fruitier.

This wine has received some interesting recognition. According to the Palo Alto Wines website, the 2008 Vintage took gold at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2009. Palo Alto Reserve 2007 was scored at 89 points by Wine Spectator and named a “Best Value Red Wine.” It also earned a gold medal and “best value” designation while being scored at 91 points in the Wines of Chile Awards 2009.

Various wine bloggers have tasted Palo Alto Reserve, and have been favorable in their comments. Catchpeter scored it a 90 even though he found the wine confusing on his palate. In an unusual post that managed to discuss the credit crunch and Higgs Boson in addition to wine, Confessions of a Wino termed the wine, “Rich, full bodied and not for the feeble.” Drink What You Like found it to be the standout red at a local tasting. Vino Underground scored it an 89 despite finding it a bit tannic. Tim Dwight’s “Through the Grapevine” blog called it a “crowd pleasing bargain.” All in all, the blogosphere is in love with this wine – I don’t recall ever seeing such uniformly positive commentary on a wine in the $10 price range.

In case you wondered about the Palo Alto name, their site explains:

“Palo Alto” is the nickname for the thorny flowering trees that are dotted all over the rolling hillsides of the Maule Valley, the place where our wines are produced. These trees thrive in the dry, rocky, infertile soils. It’s no coincidence that where you see a “palo alto” you will often find vines. Vines planted in such soils tend to produce really high quality grapes, hence the name of our wines.

Overall, Palo Alto Reserve 2008 is a great value – I’m tempted to put a few bottles away to see what it’s like in a couple of years.

Lost Angel Mischief Red Wine 2006

Lost Angel Mischief Red WinePrice: $12
Maker: Eos Estate Winery (Sapphire Brands), Paso Robles, California
Varietal: Red Blend – 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Petite Sirah, 18% Sangiovese
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.9 out of 10

Lost Angel Mischief Red Wine 2006 was a real surprise. A red blend with a funky name costing a little over ten bucks didn’t create much in the way of anticipation. The first surprise was a slightly floral note in the nose, in addition to the expected berry and spice notes. The second surprise was the overall enjoyability of this wine. On the palate, this is a juicy and robust red. Raspberry and cherry predominate, but there is nice structure and complexity. The finish is dry and long-lasting, with a spicy, earthy finish.

Lost Angel Mischief is a product of Eos Estate Wines, a winery that produces significantly more costly wines. The Lost Angel series is the lowest cost line, but it clearly benefits from its pricier siblings. Eos Estate’s winemaker is Nathan Carlson, who notes, “Eos has taken a bold step to become the first large winery in Paso Robles to commit to using only solar power. This fits nicely with my personal commitment to sustainability issues in agriculture, which is an important reason why I am involved in the wine industry.”

In short, Lost Angel Mischief is a tasty red blend that offers more flavor and sophistication than one might expect at first glance. It’s a great choice if you don’t mind a fun, non-snobby label and prefer a fruitier but still interesting New World red.

Franciscan Oakville Estate Magnificat 2003

Price: $50
Maker: Franciscan Oakville Estate, Rutherford, California
Varietal: Red Blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.1 %
Our Rating: 8.9 out of 10

We opened our bottle of Franciscan Oakville Estate Magnificat 2003 as a Christmas dinner treat to accompany a standing rib roast. This is a more costly wine than we usually comment on here, and we looked forward to experiencing a big red – this is a Meritage blend, ostensibly the best of the best, and it weighs in at a hefty 14.1% alcohol level, higher than a typical cab. While I wasn’t able to track down the blending proportions for the 2003 Magnificat, the 2005 vintage was almost three-quarters Cabernet Sauvignon with almost all of the rest Merlot; the Malbec and Petit Verdot were only a percent or two each.

This Meritage blend has a deep ruby color, and offers a bright and explosive berry aroma. On the palate, plum and black cherry notes combine with chocolate. There wasn’t a lot of pepper or spice in the finish, but the finish was long with plenty of chewy tannins. Although I uncorked the wine well in advance of the first pour, it wasn’t until the bottle was partially consumed and the wine had still more air that it really came into its own. I’d suggest ample breathing opportunity, or even decanting.

Around the Web, Grape Thoughts found the 2001 Franciscan Magnificat to be “magnificent.”

Overall, this wine didn’t disappoint – it offered good structure and complexity, and certainly held its own with flavorful prime rib. Would I run out and buy more at $50? Hard to say. Despite the fact that expensive wine tastes better, for my palate, at least, the Franciscan Magnificat 2003 wasn’t that much better than some wines costing half as much or less. (On the other hand, perhaps I need to spend more time drinking wines in this price range and higher to expand my appreciation for their presumed subtleties.) In any case, if the price isn’t off-putting, you’ll find this wine to be a solid choice.

Lindemans Reserve Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Lindemans Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $10
Maker: Lindemans Wines, Australia
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, screw cap
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.2 out of 10

I’ve enjoyed other Lindemans wines, and I looked forward to the Lindemans Reserve Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 with considerable anticipation, even though I had found the bottle on the clearance shelf for a fraction of its normal price. After a few sips, though, I found out why it might have ended up in the sale bin. The aroma was fruity, with slightly musty berry notes. The flavor, though, was all oak and sharp-elbowed tannins. Things improved slightly after letting the wine sit overnight – some spice emerged in the nose, and the flavor finally showed some blackberry fruit.

I find it hard to recommend this wine, even though it’s inexpensive for any wine flagged as a “reserve.” For my taste, at least, one of Lindemans’ lesser wines, like their Bin 45 Cabernet Sauvignon, might actually be a better choice.

Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2006

Menage a Trois RedPrice: $10
Maker: Folie à Deux Winery, St. Helena, Napa County, California
Varietal: Blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2006 is a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon that most heavily favors the Zin side of its heritage. It has a nice aroma of spicy berries. It’s flavor is jammy, with strawberries, raspberries, and chocolate notes, and the finish is slightly peppery. This red wine leans toward the sweet side a bit.

We found a few other wine bloggers who have tried Menage a Trois Red. Budget Vino said, “This wine is overly sweet- so much so that I questioned whether I would be able to finish the glass I poured and salvage my $10 investment.” The Wine Cask Blog liked it a bit more, saying, “It delivers easy drinkability and simple, fruity tastes and smells. Structurally it is unsophisticated but not poor. A good every-day value wine.” Yoav thought it “went down nicely.” And, G&D’s mother-in-law recommended she try Menage a Trois, much to G&D’s delight.

The last vintage of this wine we tried was Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2003.

Tin Roof Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Tin Roof Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $10
Maker: Tin Roof Cellars, Santa Rosa, California
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5 %
Our Rating: 8.7 out of 10

Tin Roof Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 starts with an attractive contemporary label design, which notes that “making wines at Tin Roof is a blast – especially when it’s raining!” The closure is a silver and black artificial cork. It has a pleasant aroma of leather, licorice, and spice. The flavor is equally pleasant, with cherry and blackberry fruit, and a long oaky finish. We found this Cab to be very accessible and easy to enjoy alone or with food.

The Tin Roof website isn’t overly elaborate, but it’s nicely designed and has good descriptions of each wine. There’s even a store locator that (for once) worked and produced some accurate local listings.

This Cabernet has been tasted by several bloggers. From Reason to Freedom gave it a B-, suggesting that it might be “better suited for dinner than perhaps drinking on its own.” In contrast, Daily Wine Tasting scored it 91 points, calling it a “delicous, gentle, easy sipper.” Three Sweet Ounces called it “very tasty and quite drinkable.”

Wine Enthusiast scored Tin Roof Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 at 86 points, describing it as “A nice glass of Cab… It’s bone dry, with a scour of sandpapery tannins, and hints of cherries, blackberries, plums, cola and cedar. Shows real class…” We might not have described it as “bone dry,” but we heartily endorse the “nice glass of Cab” part.

Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Killer Juice Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $19
Maker: Killer Juice Vineyards, Ripon, California
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 3-liter box, twist spigot
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

It’s been two years since we tried Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 vintage of this boxed Cab is a more than worthy successor. The nose was mild, with ripe berry and woody notes. This Cab had a big, rounded cherry flavor with oak and black pepper in the finish. Crisp tannins contributed to a nice balance overall.

At the 2008 Twin Cities Food and Wine Experience, Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 took the “Best Value Cabernet Sauvignon” award. That may be a bigger accomplishment that it might seem to be at first glance – the other varietal winners of value awards were all bottled wines. I’m sure the Killer Juice makers were very pleased by this result.

This wine hasn’t received a lot of blog attention, but How I Eat gave it high marks for everyday drinkability. The Wineauxs declared the 2005 vintage “simple and inoffensive – great for burgers and pizza.” We go along with these reviews – if you are looking for a very drinkable boxed red wine that you can put on your counter and enjoy every day, Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 is a fine choice.

(Our previous tasting: Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon 2003.)

Winking Owl Cabernet Sauvignon

Winking Owl Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $3
Maker: Winking Owl Vineyards, Modesto, California
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 12.0 %
Our Rating: 6 out of 10

Winking Owl Cabernet Sauvignon is a non-vintage offering aimed at the market niche popularized by Two Buck Chuck from Charles Shaw Wines. Unfortunately, it matches the price but misses the mark on quality. The bottle of Winking Owl Cab I tried was thin in color and flavor; in general, it was one big earthy off-note, and most of it went down the drain.

I’m hoping that I just got a bad bottle – others have reported more success with this inexpensive brand. The Drank Tank says, “And if there is one thing we are missing in the USA that they do have in Europe, it’s CHEAP wine that doesn’t make you ralph. Thank you Aldi for this piece of Europe. WINKING OWL is absolutely the best value wine I’ve ever had.” Perhaps Winking Owl can use “Doesn’t Make You Ralph” as their new tag line. Crumbs to mark the path comments, “super great value red… excellent & smooth…maybe new favorite.” I saw some favorable forum postings, too. I like inexpensive reds as much as the next blogger, and I find it hard to reconcile the plonk I tasted with what everyone else seems to be saying about this Cab. I guess for $3, I can afford to try another bottle.

I did find one review that was closer to my own assessment, posted by Kathleen Purvis of McClatchy Newspapers:

Awful aroma, nasty flavor. “I’d say it’s corked, but it had a plastic cork.”

Winking Owl Vineyards seems to be an exclusive brand of the Aldi supermarket chain, which seems to be trying to stage a small-scale emulation of Trader Joe’s with their inexpensive house brand wines. If you are looking for an ultra-low priced wine, we’d suggest Oak Leaf Cabernet Sauvignon as a somewhat better alternative.

Night Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Night Harvest Cabernet SauvignonPrice: $8
Maker: R.H. Phillips Vineyards, Woodbridge, California
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.8 out of 10

Night Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is our kind of wine. Its ripe berry nose is tinged with smoky oak. On the palate, it’s ripe and fruity, with strong cherry and plum notes. The finish is long and spicy with nicely balanced tannins. This is a very pleasant and drinkable wine.

According to the Night Harvest Website, they really do harvest the grapes at night: “Today, night harvesting remains a magical time for our winemaking team and the linchpin of our winemaking process, as we continue to harvest all our estate fruit under the stars during the cool hours between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.”

A few bloggers have tried this wine and liked it. The Hedonist notes, “this wine is a keeper… the best-value red wine that Lord Bacchus has tasted in some time.” The Liquid Grape raves, “For under $10, you will have a hard time finding another Cab Sauv as well balanced as this one.” Psydr Short and to the Point Wine Reviews gave the Night Harvest Cab four out of five stars and commented, “A darn good wine for the money. Very smooth with a hint of berry.”

If your tastes lean toward fruity, well-balanced reds, give Night Harvest Cabernet Sauvignon a try.